Helpful Hints for Owners of Overweight Pets
First things first: is my pet overweight?
A combination of moving less and eating more has lead our pets has led to our pets becoming increasingly larger. Making just a few small changes to your pet’s daily lifestyle will provide a long-term solution to this problem, and we can hopefully reverse the trend, to become a nation with happy, healthy pets!
What causes of obesity?
The most common cause of obesity is overeating, alone or in combination with a lack of exercise. If your cat, dog, or rabbit consumes more calories than he burns off, the excess energy will be stored as fat. Some breeds of dog are more susceptible to weight gain than others – Labrador Retrievers, Beagles and Basset Hounds, to name just a few – but irrespective of breed, all owners have a responsibility to make sure their pet maintains a healthy weight (owners of obesity-prone dogs just need to be especially vigilant!).
Hypothyroidism and Cushing’s
In a relatively small number of cases, hormonal disorders such as Hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease can be contributing factors.
Hypothyroidism (commonly referred to as “underactive thyroid disease”), means that insufficient amounts of the thyroid hormones are being produced. Usually, it affects mid to large size breeds and the symptoms are somewhat variable. The most common signs are:
High blood cholesterol
Cushing’s disease is caused by the overproduction of a steroid hormone called glucocorticoid. Once again, the symptoms are wide-ranging (as this hormone is used for many processes in the body). The most common symptoms include:
Abdominal enlargement, or pot-bellied appearance (often described by owners as a gain in weight)
Frequent, copious urination
Increased water consumption
What are the risks to my pet if he or she is obese?
There are a number of health risks associated with obesity in pets. The most common ones include:
Decreased tolerance to high temperatures
Respiratory or heart disease
As you can imagine, these conditions can cause a significant amount of discomfort to your much-loved pet, so it’s imperative that you take decisive and rapid action if you suspect that your pet is too heavy.
What should I do if I suspect my pet is overweight?
First things first: make an appointment with your vet. They will weigh your pet (rather more easily than you might be able to at home!) and give you advice on how to change their routine. You’ll also rule out any possible underlying health problems, such as Hypothyroidism or Cushing’s, and your pet will get a general health check up at the same time.
How should I approach weight loss?
Once your vet has assessed your pet, he or she will be able to help you design a weight loss plan specific to your animal’s needs, including any necessary changes to diet and routine, such as an exercise plan.
The safe target weight loss for most pets should be around 1% of their weight lost per week. For instance, if your dog weighs 30kg, they should be losing 300g per week, or if your cat weighs 7kg they should be losing 70g per week.
Before you change your pet’s diet, it’s best to discuss the options with your vet or veterinary nurse. In most cases a low calorie prescription (‘vet only’) diet will be recommended. Remember - always follow the instructions along with the advice of your pet, as if you don’t this could cause health problems in itself!
Low Calorie Diets
Low calorie diets are designed to give your pet fewer calories but with the same feeling of fullness that they normally experience after a meal (so they won’t be begging as you eat!). Here are some examples of high quality diets designed to promote rapid, safe weight loss:
Hills r/d (wet and dry, both canine and feline)
Royal Canin Obesity Management (wet and dry, for dogs only)
Royal Canin Feline Obesity (wet and dry foods, for cats only)
Ask whether your local veterinary clinic runs “weight watchers” programs. These have become popular recently with the rise of pet obesity, and are great for regular checks and making sure you and your pet are on the right track.
General principles to aid weight loss
Measure your pet’s food intake carefully
Only offer your pet the amount and type of food advised by your vet
No snacking, including treats and table scraps (sad face)
Increase exercise! Easier for dogs than cats… but you can encourage your cat to exercise by playing with her more, putting her food upstairs, and offering her toys to amuse herself with when you are not about
Make sure that the whole family is involved: each member of the household needs to understand what you are trying to achieve and how important it is! Top tip: if multiple members of the family feed your pet, set up a little chart to record who fed when, and how much, so you can keep track!
If you find that your diet and lifestyle changes are not having the desired effect it is important that you seek further advice from your veterinary health care professional.
Remember that feeding guides are just that, individual variation between animals often means that a few adjustments may need to be made to the diet program in order to find a regime that works for your pet.